Sunday, 3 December 2017


Throughout his film career, Cushing played Nazis a surprising number of times. From Rudolph Hess in a 1953 episode of You Are There, to Heinrich Haussner in Son Of Hitler (1977) and Martin Blueck in the Hammer House Of Horror series, missing several in between and after. Of course tht's not even including close cousins such as Major Heinrich Benedek in Scream And Scream Again or Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars (1977). And can anyone forget that striking poster for the unmade The Savage Jackboot, featuring an image of Peter  dressed as an SS officer and brandishing a whip? 

Perhaps the most obvious Cushing Nazi role is that of the unnamed 'SS Commander' in Shock Waves...... despite him having very little screen time. Shock Waves has certainly build something of a reputation for itself, in spite of being incredibly low budget and essentially utilizing a tired slasher format. Of course what Shock Waves is most remembered for re-introducing the concept of Nazi Zombie popular in the 1940's and doing successfully. It doesn't really need to stated, that excluding some excellent offerings post 2000 (Dead Snow I'm looking at you) the Nazi Zombie film sub-gene is primarily made up of some pretty awful films, euro-horrors Zombie Lake and Oasis Of The Zombies (both 1981) spring to mind. Shock Waves is often thought of as the best of these, avoiding a straight up Romero rip-off in that it's Zombies are calculated, trained killers that never stop rather than flesh eating monsters.

The film tells the story of a The film tells the story of a group of tourists cruising on a small boat skippered by genre favourite John Carradine. After encountering a strange orange haze and a possible Ghost boat, the ship begins to take on water and the group find themselves evacuating to a nearby island. The island is deserted aside from an aged SS Commander (Cushing), who lives in self-exile in a deserted hotel. Cushing tells the group the story of the Death Corps, a group of undead super soldiers developed towards the end of the war, who unable to die have lain in the hold of the sinking ship, until the tourists crashing into it released them. One by one the group are laid to siege by the unstoppable killers.

It’s an incredibly simple film and as I stated before works using the format of a slasher film above anything else. Characters are introduced. Threat is introduced. Characters are picked off by threat one by one until only one/two survive. That’s it. However that’s not to say Shock Waves is bad. Far from it. Where it succeeds is atmosphere and heaps of it. The island setting is incredibly evocative and the hotel where director Ken Wierderhorn filmed is particularly creepy (apparently he payed $250 to rent the entire building, it’s now a luxury hotel which charges significantly more than that per room per night). 

The Nazi zombies themselves look INCREDIBLE, the simple design giving them a sleek appearance that makes their stalking scenes particularly effective. The shots of them underwater are one of the highlights of the film and are genuinely chilling.

And what of Cushing? Well as ever he attempts to imbue his character with some pathos but there really is far too little of him on-screen to even really comment on his performance. His monologue is one of the most chilling sequences in the film and easily the highlight and he does manage to at least deliver a menacing presence for the 5+ minutes we actually see him. 

It’s also interesting to see him acting in what is clearly a film that fits more comfortably into the ‘Horror New Wave’ style of the 1970’s than it does into any of the more classically based horror that he usually appears in. It’s a pity he had no scenes with Carradine however, though just as with every other horror star from the 50’s/60’s/70s you can always catch them together in 1983’s House of the Long Shadows. 

However if your intending to watch Shock Waves for Cushing alone, maybe give it a miss.   I recommend Shock Waves. It’s no genre classic and certainly slogs considerably once the nature of the Zombies is revealed and it turns into standard slasher fare. That said however, its ninety minutes of genuinely well-shot atmosphere. If you enjoy that indie 70’s grunge horror, then give it a watch. For genuinely excellent Nazi Zombie horror- watch Dead Snow .

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